Women's natural aptitudes, the rate at which women the world over are pouring into the work force, the international baby boom, and menopause. Based on these four factors, Helen Fisher makes what she calls an immodest proposal : women will dramatically influence 21st-century life. The First Sex describes the forms that influence will take in the work place, the media, schools, the bedroom, and the family.

Fisher's contention that women are the first sex biologically and in many spheres of economic and social life will undoubtedly raise conservative hackles. It may not sit well with some feminists either. Her argument that inherited gender differences account for women's natural talents, such as skill with words, empathy, patience, a gift for negotiation, and an impulse to nurture, skirts uncomfortably close to the chauvinist adage that biology is destiny.

Overall, however, this controversial compendium of bold statements, supported by vast amounts of biological and anthropological research, is persuasive partly, no doubt, because Fisher's writing style makes the material accessible. One of the most entertaining aspects of The First Sex is how its author uses delightful, often surprising quotes to set the context for her arguments. She brackets a section on women and education, for example, between quotes from Mae West, Brains are an asset, if you hide them, and William Butler Yeats, Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. Baby boomers not surprisingly, Fisher is one will find particularly intriguing Fisher's celebration of the mighty menopause. She quotes anthropological studies of traditional societies around the world to show that postmenopausal women become powerful economically, socially, politically, and/or spiritually. Because of freedom from child raising responsibilities and the physiological changes that occur as higher concentrations of male hormones course through their blood streams, middle-aged women become action-oriented, confident, forthright, and uninhibited. The huge cohort of women boomers has reached middle age and, as Fisher puts it, they are about to shake things up. Connie Miller lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.

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